Geographies of Children

Geographies of Children

Geographies of children is a subset of human geography that focuses on children’s understanding of spatial relationships in their environment (Hart 1982, 1).  Researchers study how the vast array of spaces and places children experience shape their cognitive reasoning of the world around them.  Factors such as a child’s home, school, neighborhood, and accessibility to play spaces all influence the development of their worldviews (McKendrick 2001, 361).

This website describes research done by undergraduate students at the University of Mary Washington with 5th graders at a public school in a small- to medium-sized southern city in the US. The city is typical of US cities in that it is highly segregated by race and class, characterized by economic inequality, unequal access to opportunity and education, and small areas characterized by significant violence. Like many US cities, the city also is experiencing gentrification, a thriving arts scene, growing foodie culture, and hipsters.

The public school is an unusual elementary school in that it is less racially and economically segregated than the city as a whole (read more about the setting and our sample). While its student body likely does not represent the poorest or the wealthiest segments of the city, it does include students from a wide swath of the city and the students and their neighborhoods represent the racial and economic diversity of the city. The school is also unusual because it is built in the corner of a park and classes frequently go into the park for both academic lessons and downtime.

We conducted two rounds of interviews with 5th graders (the highest grade at the school) using common methods in geographic research with children: mental mapping and photo elicitation interviews. The mental mapping interviews were completed on one day (we did between two and four interviews each) and focused on the park. The maps and interviews allowed us to compare how students from across the city understand a space, associated with school but not entirely of school, that they all share. We analyzed both the mental maps and the interviews in order to understand what places and activities they most valued in the park (see this discussion of our findings).

The photo elicitation interviews were done with students who took photos with disposable cameras. These interviews (and the photos themselves) gave us some insight into the very different places, including their homes, neighborhoods, aftercare centers, extended families, stores, roads, etc, that matter to students once they leave school. We discuss the photos here and you can explore them here and by clicking on the tags on the left. The captions from the photos are from the interviews with students.



Hart, Roger. 1982.  The Geography of Children and Children’s Geographies.  Available from here

McKendrick, J.H. 2001.  The Geography of Children: An Annotated Bibliography. Childhood: A Global Journal of Child Research, 7.3: 361-387.  1 (August): 359-387.  Available from here

See all of our references here.